Governments urged to accelerate circular economy transition through green recovery plans

As nations continue to deliver their strategies for the economic recovery from Covid-19, they must better embed measures to improve resource efficiency, recycling, reuse and nature restoration, according to a major new policy briefing.

According to think-tank Circle Economy, less than 9% of the 100 billion tonnes of virgin raw materials extracted each year are reused or recycled 

According to think-tank Circle Economy, less than 9% of the 100 billion tonnes of virgin raw materials extracted each year are reused or recycled 

The briefing has been produced by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and outlines a universal set of goals that policymakers can work towards – in collaboration with businesses – to shift economies away from unsustainable, linear models of consumption.

Goals are grouped into five key areas: stimulating design for the circular economy; resource management that preserves value; shifting the economics; investing in innovations, infrastructure and skills; and collaboration for systems change.

Action across all five pillars, the Foundation states, can build resilience into national economies by minimising their contribution to – and exposure to – climate change, biodiversity loss and resource scarcity.

Examples detailed in the first pillar include policies that require companies to make goods that are durable and repairable, like the EU’s Circular Economy Package. The Package mandates electronics manufacturers to implement eco-design principles and ensure their customers have a “right to repair”. This pillar also covers requirements on collecting and sharing information regarding the environmental footprint of products and sustainable sourcing requirements.

The second policy goal focuses on improved resource management, recognising the value of well-designed Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) schemes and Deposit Return Schemes (DRS). EPR rules are due to get tighter in the UK in the coming years, alongside the rollout of a national DRS, through the Resources and Waste Strategy – but consultations on the specifics have stalled due to the pandemic. Such schemes will also have an impact on the third goal, around economics, helping to make circular economy models less costly and pricing in the externalities associated with take-make-dispose systems.

Initial proponents of the framework include the World Bank and Ikea, which is a strategic partner of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

Inter Ikea Group’s public affairs director Roberta Dessì said the new universal policy goals “pave the way for our business and other businesses, governments, and NGO’s alike, to jointly address the great opportunity circularity presents”.

“This is one of the key steps in finding a common starting point and alignment in advancing this exciting agenda,” she added.

Refashioned approach

It’s been a busy week for the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. The NGO also saw online fashion retail giant Zalando sign up as a member this week, as the business committed to extending the life of at least 50 million products by 2023.

Zalando’s approach to circularity covers its two main resource use streams – products and packaging. On the former, it launched a digital app to help shoppers buy and sell pre-owned items in 2019 and has since embedded this as a category on its main site. It has also worked with Berlin-based startup circular fashion to develop a capsule collection of clothing made using renewable, recycled and sustainably sourced materials, designed for longevity and recyclability. It will now work to ensure that in-house professionals and brand partners are working in line with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s principles: designing out waste and pollution, keeping products and materials in use and regenerating natural systems. Like Asos, Zalando recently tightened sustainability-related requirements for third-party brands, of which it lists more than 3,000.

As for packaging, Zalando has pledged to eliminate single-use plastics and is shifting to recycled card and paper-based alternatives. It has also explored reusable packaging options.

Zalando is already a member of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition and Fashion For Good. The firm’s head of circularity Laura Coppen said that the new membership with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation will help the business to “collaborate more closely with circular economy experts and organisations from different industries”.

“Our vision is to be a sustainable fashion platform with a net-positive impact for people and the planet,” Coppen continued. “We are contributing our ability to scale ideas, our tech know-how and access to over 3,000 brands and over 35 million customers. We believe that we can make a difference together.”

Sarah George



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